|The Nossiter Net
The net that shall enmesh them all
Edited, Written, and Published by Josh Nossiter
|The Morning Mendacity
Thursday, May 12th, 2005
|The Nossiter Net is cast to snare some of the riper rascalities of the day. Comments? email@example.com|
|If I pass the burial spot of Nero
I shall say to the wind, “Well, well!”—
I who have fiddled in a world on fire,
I who have done so many stunts not worth doing.
Losers, Carl Sandburg, 1922
On Wednesday 5/11/05, three years and eight months to the day after 9/11/01, the capital was on red alert, under threat by an unidentified aircraft minutes from the White House. The House and Senate were evacuated. White House staff, including the Vice President and the First Lady, were hustled to secure bunkers. F16s were scrambled, a Blackhawk helicopter intercept went aloft, the National Guard was called out, and Washington, DC was in full panic mode.
But not George. George W. Bush was serenely riding his bicycle in the Maryland countryside, calm and unruffled, enjoying a lovely spring day. It requires a special type of leader to maintain his composure to that degree in the face of impending calamity. Sir Francis Drake comes to mind, who collectedly finished his game of lawn bowls despite being informed of the sighting of the invading Spanish armada. Or General Israel Putnam, who composedly ordered his Minutemen not to fire on the British troops at the Battle of Bunker Hill until they could see the whites of the enemy’s eyes. Or Lord George Paget, coolly finishing his “remarkably good cigar” in the seconds before the charge of his Light Brigade. Or Franklin D. Roosevelt, in the depths of the Great Depression, reassuring the nation that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Taking his cue from these illustrious predecessors, our self-described wartime leader set us all an example by refusing to panic and, beyond that, by putting the highest priority on his own enjoyment. Because as much as Mr. Bush is a wartime president, he is also a vacation president. Recall that for the entire month of August, 2001, in the days before the 9/11 attacks, when Richard Clarke, the counter-terrorism czar, was playing Chicken Little to an indifferent and uncomprehending National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, Mr. Bush was on vacation at his ranch. A working vacation, Mr. Bush’s friends would point out. Balancing work and play is not easy; some indication of the balance that Mr. Bush struck is evidenced by the number of meetings he had with then CIA Director George Tenet in August of ’01. These amounted to a total of zero.*
Drake finished his game and ambled off to destroy the Spanish fleet, with the help of a largish storm. General Putnam, though his men stood and fought, was greatly outnumbered and did actually lose the Battle of Bunker Hill. It was scarcely a triumph for the British, however, and prompted their General Clinton to remark “A few more such victories would have surely put an end to British dominion in America.” Paget survived the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade to enjoy many more good cigars. Roosevelt – we all know what he did, just as we all know what happened when Mr. Bush returned to Washington at the end of his August 2001 vacation.
As for the attack of 5/11/05 – well, the unidentified airborne threat turned out to be an off-course Cessna piloted by a confused, presumably terrified, amateur. The capital stood down from its red alert in short order, and life quickly returned to normal. The President, meanwhile, maintained his air of unruffled calm and absolute composure throughout. And why should he not? After all, during the entire time that the nation’s capital was threatened, nobody thought it necessary to interrupt the Presidential bike ride and inform Mr. Bush of the alert.
It’s true that even Nero was told of Rome’s conflagration, but that was only because bicycles hadn’t yet been invented.
©Joshua C. Nossiter, 2005
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